The Complete Walk-in Tub Buyer's Guide
Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a More Accessible Bathtub
Buying a walk-in tub is a major investment.
If you’re like most people, you’ve never really thought about buying one until it became a need.
But it’s a product that is unfamiliar and now you don’t know how to pick the right one.
Which features does your walk-in tub need?
What options should you consider adding on?
Do you want the tub door to swing in or out? Right or left?
What size tub should you get?
How much will it cost?
Who will do the installation?
At some point, someone you care for has encountered mobility or strength issues.
Now you’re trying to learn everything you can about walk-in bathtubs so you can make a well-informed purchase.
We’re here to help.
This is our comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about buying a bathtub with a door for seniors or handicapped bathers.
With all of this information in hand, you’ll feel confident in selecting the right tub.
The Benefits of Having a Walk-in Tub
People who install a walk-in tub in their home always talk about how they wish they’d gotten one earlier.
It’s remarkable how much this addition to the bathroom improves the quality of life of the folks that use them.
Walk-in tubs aren’t just for the elderly, either.
Anyone with mobility issues will benefit from having a bathtub with a door.
And even the able-bodied would find a lot of enjoyment in having one in their home.
There are many benefits of buying a walk-in tub. Here are a few:
Walk-in tubs are designed to be easy to use, especially for people with limited mobility.
Bathing is an important part of our routines, after all!
We shouldn’t dread the bath or shower because it’s difficult to get into the tub, although that’s a reality for so many people.
Walk-in tubs come equipped with features specifically designed to be accessible for seniors and people with disabilities.
For example, a door allows you to step into the tub without having to lift your legs over a high barrier.
Transfer benches help you shift your weight onto a higher, supported surface (instead of ground level) when getting in and out.
Barrier-free showers have grab bars and low threshold entrances, again to reduce the barrier on entry and exit.
A home is arguably the most important place to modify for accessibility — and your bathroom is a high priority.
Everyone should have access to a safe way to bathe.
There has been extensive research and planning into bathing products to make the experience as safe as possible.
These products aim to minimize the risk of falls and slips by providing doors, grab bars, slip resistant floors, and more.
This is especially comforting to loved ones of people who purchase walk-in tubs and barrier-free showers.
We all know how much we worry about the people close to us.
You can feel comforted knowing that manufacturers care as much about the user’s safety as you do.
When someone requires help getting into the bathtub, they’re certainly losing a degree of privacy.
While it may be a close family member or someone they’re very comfortable with, privacy is still important for our well-being.
With standard bathtubs, users often need assistance entering and exiting the tub or shower. More accessible alternatives make the process much easier.
In many cases, this means the user no longer needs help at all! It’s common to hear stories from users who have regained a sense of privacy from accessible bathroom updates.
In addition to privacy, users can take back their sense of independence with walk-in tubs, too.
Imagine if your loved could one regain control over just one area of their life that’s been altered due to mobility issues.
It not only frees up time for caregivers, but the user may feel more confident in themselves, too.
Where to Buy a Walk-in Tub
There are several things to consider when deciding where to go when shopping for a walk-in tub or barrier-free shower. Where do you start to look for buying an accessible bathtub for your home? Here’s a few options:
#1: Home Medical Equipment Store
You can buy walk-in tubs in many home medical equipment stores. These are the same places you’ll find other accessible support tools like walkers and wheelchairs.
These stores should be able to answer any questions you have.
They likely have some experience and can make recommendations on features and options to help you decide on the right tub for you.
They may also have an installer or bathroom contractor in-house or that they can recommend to ensure your tub is installed by someone with experience.
#2: Direct From Supplier
You can also shop for walk-in tubs and barrier-free showers direct from the manufacturer or wholesaler, usually online.
Through supplier websites, you can usually:
- download a product catalogue
- get info about warranty, shipping, features, and options
- submit a contact form for more information
- call in to speak to customer service representatives
- request a quote for the product you’re interested in
- maybe even use a chat feature to get answers to your questions
Manufacturers are the ones that make the products, so they have a lot of expertise and knowledge to offer.
You may even be able to save a little on the price, since you don’t have to go through a retailer.
Plus, many manufacturers will ship their products almost anywhere in the world.
#3: Big Box Stores
You can also inquire about availability at department stores and home improvement stores.
These can be found in just about every town and city, making them available to some areas that don’t have home medical equipment stores.
However, a bathtub with a door isn’t likely to be a product they sell very often, and you may not get the same amount of quality knowledge and advice about the tubs they have available. These stores sell a very wide variety of products, after all, and don’t specialize in this type of product.
Determining Door Opening Direction on Walk-in Bathtubs
Bathtubs with doors add a feature that traditional tubs don’t have — a door — so there are a few considerations you wouldn’t normally have to think about with an ordinary bathtub.
There are a few different styles of doors that different manufacturers offer on walk-in tubs.
Doors can swing inward or outward.
They also swing to the left or to the right, and you need to have the correct one for your bathroom.
They can also expand wide enough to expose the seat inside the tub, so the bather doesn’t have to walk in then sit down. They can sit down first and then move their legs inside the enclosure. This is a great option for people who use wheelchairs.
Inward-Swinging Tub Doors
Inward-swinging doors are excellent for smaller bathrooms.
They provide the necessary accessibility with a low threshold entrance, but the inward-swinging motion means you don’t need to worry about limiting space outside of the tub. This is especially helpful if the tub is placed close to the toilet or sink.
In-swing doors are also usually narrower.
It used to be standard that tubs with doors had inward-swinging doors, because it ensured the door couldn’t push out and leak water. The water pressure only makes the door seal tighter as it presses against the tub wall.
But modern locking mechanisms make it possible to have outward-swinging doors that are just as leak-proof.
Outward-Swinging Tub Doors
Outward-swinging doors offer even better accessibility since the door doesn’t swing in and take up space in the tub while the user tries to sit, and then have to swing the door past their knees to close.
They can enjoy more room to enter and exit, and close the door easily once inside without having to move their legs out of the way.
There are also styles designed with wider doors (and wider seats) to accommodate users of all sizes.
Right-Handed or Left-Handed Tub Door?
Contrary to how it sounds, a left-handed door isn’t made for left-handed people.
Instead, you should choose a left-handed door if the drain is on your left when you stand facing your tub. If your drain is on the right when you’re standing in front of your tub, you’ll want a right-handed door to match the drain.
Keep in mind that the drain in your washroom is in a fixed position; you can’t change this without significant plumbing renovations.
This might make you wonder, “How do I make sure my new tub comes with the drain in the right place?”.
Many companies will walk you through the purchasing process and customize your tub to fit your washroom precisely. This will likely involve advice on which style of door you should choose, as well.
Dimensions of Walk-in Tubs
There’s a wide range of shapes and sizes available for walk-in tubs.
There’s ones that can fit in smaller bathrooms, ones that let you lie down completely, ones where you’re sitting upright, wide ones for extra comfort, and more.
Although, before looking at dimensions of what’s available, you should find out what will fit in your home first.
Go on, grab your measuring tape and get the dimensions that will fit the washroom where your tub will be installed. You’ll want to measure the length, width, and height that’s available.
A good starting place is to measure the tub you already have and look for free space around it.
A standard tub is about 60 inches long and 30-32 inches wide.
Many walk-in tub manufacturers make models that fit in the same footprint. Some may be a bit shorter than 60 inches, but can be ordered with a filler panel for a clean, tidy-looking install in your existing spot.
Keep in mind that models differ in whether they have inward- or outward-swinging doors to suit different spaces. You may need to plan around a sink, toilet, or other item.
Another advantage of walk-in tubs is that you can get free-standing models. This means it doesn’t need to be enclosed with walls — you can get an end panel to cover the plumbing for a tidy look.
Walk-in Bathtub Installation
Installing a walk-in tub or barrier-free shower takes time and skill.
It is highly recommend that you let a professional do the installation to avoid any future issues.
Most walk-in tubs will require some modifications to your bathroom, so be prepared to use an installer or contractor to get your new tub in place and working.
The company you purchase the tub from should be able to recommend a contractor with experience that they trust.
Most contractors with bathroom renovation experience should be up to the task, but you may want to ask if they have specific experience with installing accessible bathtubs.
Installation isn’t commonly included in your purchase price, even if the company you’re buying from has their own installation team to complete the process.
So be prepared for the added cost of properly installing your new walk-in bathtub in your home, whether it be significant remodeling or minor alterations.
Tub Features to Look For
Different manufacturers offer different standard features in their walk-in tubs. So you’ll want to compare suppliers by what’s important to you.
Most features of walk-in tubs are designed for the safety and comfort of the user, and the durability of the tub. They range from quick drains to easy-to-clean acrylic finishes.
Also, different tub models can come equipped with varying features, so be sure to check out the features included in the tub you’re interested in. Here’s an overview of six common features and why they’re useful.
#1: High-Flow Taps
You might be wondering about the process of getting in and out of a walk-in tub, since there is a door that needs to be closed before it can hold water.
Yes, you do have to get in while the tub is empty. You will then close and latch the door and wait while the water fills.
You will want to look for a tub with high-flow taps, which are designed to minimize the time it takes to fill the tub.
That’s less time waiting in an empty tub while it fills.
Some taps can even flow at a speed of 14 gallons per minute, which means they can fill a tub in less than four minutes.
#2: Aluminum Door and Door Frame
Doors are undoubtedly very important parts of the walk-in tub. You may have heard stories of doors that leaked, but this only happens with poor-quality tubs.
Make sure you’re buying a tub with high-quality components! The last thing you want is a faulty, leaky door.
While most of your tub will be made of fiberglass, it’s important to have a door and door frame made of something stronger, like aluminum, so you never have a leak.
Aluminum door components give peace of mind as they’ll stand up to virtually limitless use without warping or failing.
#3: Stainless Steel Tub Frame
There is a lot of weight in a tub full of water, so your walk-in bathtub needs a strong frame to support the shell, all of the components (jets, pumps, filters, etc.), and leveling feet for a professional install.
With stainless steel, the tub will have all the strength you could ever need, and you’ll never have to worry about hidden corrosion.
#4: Acrylic Finish
Virtually all walk-in tub shells are made of fiberglass. Many will also have a beautiful acrylic finish that’s smooth and easy to clean. It’ll keep your tub gleaming white!
#5: Quick Drain
Getting out of a walk-in tub is similar to getting in — there is a time where the user will be sitting and waiting, but this time it’s for the water to empty so it’s safe to open the door.
Manufacturers recognize that this necessary wait time would be best if it was as short as possible, so they created quick drains.
Some drains can empty the tub in 90 seconds or less. However, this does depend on the plumbing in your house.
Larger tubs may even come equipped with dual drains to get the water out quickly.
Either way, a quick drain is an essential feature to look for in a walk-in bathtub.
#6: Transfer Bench
For accessible bathtub models that are low to the ground like a traditional tub, a transfer bench helps the bather get in safely.
The fold-away bench is positioned just behind the door opening so you can sit down, swing your legs in, and then ease (with assistance, if necessary) down into the tub.
This feature is especially helpful for people who use wheelchairs or scooters. They can go from sitting in their own chair to shifting across to the transfer bench, without having to fully stand up in the process. The bench then folds away neatly so you have ample space to enjoy your bath.
Popular Bathtub Add-Ons
Get ready for the ultimate in relaxation.
Now that we’ve explained all of the features to look for when buying a walk-in bathtub, you might be looking at some of the add-ons that are available from different suppliers.
These six extras turn a normal bath into a thing of serious luxury. You’ll feel like royalty in the comfort of your own bathroom!
#1: Heated Water Jets
Did you know you can get that spa-like, water jet feeling in your own bathtub?
Some companies can even customize the position of your jets to hit just the right spot on the bather’s back.
The jets give a deep, powerful massage to relax everyday tension in muscles. They can even provide natural pain relief from arthritis.
This option is also great for soothing muscles after a workout, intensive training, or muscular injury.
When muscles get this treatment often, they stay more supple, and the user’s quality of sleep may even improve.
#2: Micro Bubbles
Micro bubbles are amazing for skin health.
They’re tiny, gas-filled bubbles that are negatively charged.
They are released into the bath water and surround the body like a cloud.
These bubbles clean your skin, since dirt and impurities in your pores are positively charged (and opposites attract)!
With micro bubbles, the bather’s skin will be fully exfoliated each time they take a bath. This leaves their skin extra soft and helps manage dry skin problems!
What could be more fun than underwater, coloured lights in your bathtub?!
Although it just sounds like a neat option, chromatherapy actually engages with the energy centres of the body to create a soothing experience.
An adaptation of ancient practices, these lights each have individual speeds, wavelengths, and rhythms.
#4: O3 Water Jet Sanitizer
A natural sanitizer, ozone is a 100% safe, natural chemical compound.
This bathtub option attaches an ozone generator to the air supply of the whirlpool jets, which purifies the water that enters.
This means skin becomes softer, cleaner, and healthier; and yes, we do mean healthier!
The O3 water jet sanitizer can improve the user’s immune system, deactivate bacteria and fungi, and treat circulatory issues.
#5: Warm Air Massage
This is another option that gives you a massage while you relax in the bath.
The heated water jets that we mentioned before massage your body with warm water, whereas this option gives you a massage with warm air.
Keep this in mind when you’re choosing your add-ons, as they’re easily confused.
The biggest difference is that the jets will give a more powerful, deep massage, while the warm air is more for relaxation and pain relief related to arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatism, and other health issues.
Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment that uses aromatic oils to enhance physical and emotional health.
Like chromatherapy, it’s another ancient practice that’s been adapted to enhance the bathing experience.
Smell is the sense that connects most closely to our memories and emotions, so depending on your own life and memories, essential oils can bring you to a whole new place in your mind.
The option involves a sleek, silver, circular piece where you add drops of your favourite essential oil; the system then circulates the scent around the bather.
Walk-in Bathtub Conversion Kits
Conversion kits are the most economical option for renovating your bathroom for accessibility.
While they still take time and skill to install, they don’t affect your walls or plumbing at all.
Conversion kits are suitable for any size bathroom, since it’s installed on the existing bathtub.
Kits can be customized for different uses. For example, many kits include a door and transfer bench.
Alternatively, some people only use their existing bathtub as a shower and therefore don’t need the door installed. For this reason, there are conversion kits that just create a walk-through cutaway in the tub for easier access.
The biggest advantage of conversion kits is the cost. Installation is much more affordable, as well as the product itself. But bathers will still have a very low tub that can present a lot of challenges for anyone with limited mobility.
What About Barrier-Free Showers?
As an alternative to walk-in bathtubs, you may prefer to look at accessible showers for your bathroom.
These showers make a great addition to any home with their sleek, accessible design.
Barrier-free means there is no door, which is great for accessibility.
You will also want to look for a low-threshold entrance, or ones without any threshold at all. We compare the two below.
Both versions allow walkers and wheelchairs to enter the shower directly.
Barrier-Free vs. No-Threshold Showers
Many accessible showers have low thresholds and come as a complete shower enclosure with base/pan, walls, and grab bars.
These easy-to-install shower stalls make entry and exit safe and hassle-free with their barely-there thresholds. They are known as barrier-free showers or low-threshold showers, as you can’t call it a no-threshold shower unless the shower floor is perfectly even with the rest of the bathroom floor.
Some showers are designed without any threshold at all, in addition to being barrier-free. These would be no-threshold showers.
These no-threshold designs utilize (usually) a tile floor that transitions seamlessly from the rest of the bathroom.
A no-threshold shower can either have a trench drain (which replaces the raised threshold with a cut out that collects water into the drain) or a traditional drain (with a sloped floor to direct water).
The no-threshold options are a little more intensive (and likely more expensive) to install; they require renovations to the floor and walls of your bathroom by an experienced bathroom contractor and tile layer.
When deciding which style suits the user and their home best, consider the plumbing, renovation budget, degree of accessibility needed, and overall desired look of the bathroom.
Low-threshold wall and base kits are typically more affordable and can be installed by any experienced bathroom contractor.
Important Barrier-Free Shower Features
All the features included in barrier-free showers are designed specifically for safety first, but also comfort. Here’s a few you want to watch for.
#1: Padded Seat
Although able-bodied people typically stand up in showers, many people with mobility issues use showers seated.
You can get a padded seat for the user to rest safely on while they wash.
Many seats will attach to the shower walls to prevent the chair from moving or slipping. Some showers have built in benches that you can use for storage, as well.
#2: Shower Wand
The shower wand is extremely useful and especially desired by people who shower seated.
It allows the user to move the shower head freely, since it’s attached with a hose, and not fixed in an overhead position. This way, the user can stand or sit in one place and use the movable shower head for hard-to-reach areas.
Plus, if the shower head has a glide bar, it adds even more convenience; you get a wide range of heights to position the shower head at when you’re not holding it.
It’s especially useful for caregivers, too. When you’re washing another person with limited mobility, you can’t always ask them to move around so they’re in the water’s path.
#3: Grab Bars
Grab bars are exactly what they sound like: bars placed on the walls of your shower that bathers can grab onto.
They help users get in and out of the shower, and improve balance and stability while they’re inside.
Some models of barrier-free shower enclosures have a full wood backing so the grab bars can be installed anywhere.
Talk with your installer so they can place them in the exact best positions for the user.
#4: Slip-Resistant and Anti-Slip Surfaces
You can finally throw out those suction-cup mats that give your feet traction on your bathtub floor!
An accessible shower should strive for ultimate safety, not something that sticks on and sometimes even detaches.
Slip-resistant or anti-slip floors should be standard in your barrier-free shower.
Having said this, you can also buy sprays that add slip resistance to your current tub or shower.
Walk-in Tub Warranty
Purchasing a walk-in bathtub or barrier-free shower is a big decision and commitment.
You’re investing quite a bit of money into this accessible bathing solution; a thorough warranty policy should come with that purchase.
Look for a warranty on the door seal, locking mechanism, faucet, other optional components, and on manufacturing defects; this means the manufacturer stands behind their design and will back it up if need be.
The best-case scenario is a lifetime warranty. You want to get the most out of your tub, after all!
Best of luck in your search for the right walk-in tub or barrier-free shower for you.
We hope you found this guide helpful!